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Criticism is the judgement of the merits and faults of the work or actions of an individual or group by another (the critic). To criticize does not necessarily imply to find fault, but the word is often taken to mean the simple expression of an objection against prejudice, or a disapproval.
Another meaning of criticism is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature, social movements, film, arts, and similar objects and events. The goal of this type of criticism is to understand the work or event more thoroughly. Links to different types of criticism can be found at the bottom of this page.
Varieties of criticism
In a logical criticism, an objection is raised about an idea, argument, action or situation on the ground that it does not make rational sense (there is something wrong with it because it is illogical, it does not follow, or it violates basic conventions of meaning - see Straight and Crooked Thinking). Such an objection usually refers to assumptions, coherence, implications and intent. Thus, the illogicality may involve that:
- Something is being assumed or inferred improperly, without reasonable ground.
- Something is internally inconsistent or self-contradictory, it is impossible to maintain all of its contents at one and the same time (because it would imply affirming and negating the same thing).
- Something has implications or effects contrary to itself or negating it.
- Something has effects contrary to its own purpose or intent, or contrary to the purpose or intent of someone concerned with it.
- Something involves a language which superficially seems to make sense, but turns out to defy logical sense when examined more closely.
In a factual (empirical) criticism, an objection is raised about an idea, argument, action or situation on the ground that there is something wrong with the evidence of the known experience relevant to it. Typically,
- Relevant purported facts are claimed to be false or implausible, i.e. not facts at all.
- Relevant facts are said not to have been definitely established as true, or the likelihood that they are true, has not been established.
- Relevant facts mentioned imply different stories which cannot be reconciled; accepting a fact would imply another fact which contradicts it in some way (there is overlap here with logical criticism).
- The presentation of facts is biased; important relevant facts are left out of the story, or the total factual context is ignored.
- Other relevant facts, which have not been mentioned, shed a different light on the issue.
- Facts focused upon are not relevant to the purpose of those concerned.
Logical and factual criticism is generally considered important to ensure the consistency, authenticity and predictability of behaviour of any kind. Without the presence of the relevant consistency, authenticity and predictability, one cannot make appropriate sense of behaviour, which becomes disorienting and creates confusion, and therefore cannot guide behavioural choices effectively.
A positive criticism draws attention to a good or positive aspect of something which is being ignored, disregarded or overlooked. People may be able to see only the negative side of something, so that it becomes necessary to highlight the positive side. A positive criticism may also be a type of self-justification or self-defence. The term "positive criticism" is also used in the sense that the criticism is "well-meant" or "well-intentioned" ("I mean it in a positive way") - here, it is emphasized the criticism is intended to serve a purpose which is constructive, or which the targeted person would approve of.
Negative criticism means voicing an objection to something only with the purpose of showing that it is simply wrong, false, mistaken, nonsensical, objectionable, disreputable. Negative criticism is also often interpreted as an attack against a person (ad hominem). Negative criticism can have the effect that the people criticized feel attacked or insulted by it, so that they do not take it seriously.
Constructive criticism aims to show that the intent or purpose of something is better served by an alternative approach. In this case, making the criticism is not necessarily deemed wrong, and its purpose is respected; rather, it is claimed that the same goal could be better achieved via a different route.
Both negative and constructive criticism have their appropriate uses, but often it is considered a requirement of criticism that they are combined. Thus, it is often considered that those who find fault with something should also offer an option for putting it right.
Destructive criticism aims to destroy the target of criticism by making the criticism ("People should shut up and follow the program"). In some contexts, destructive criticism is regarded as an undesirable nuisance, a threat, or as completely unjustifiable, especially if it involves personal attacks on people. However, in political and military contexts, destructive criticisms may be essential to save resources, or save lives. An idea in itself is not dangerous, but an idea proposed in a particular context can be very dangerous, so that people feel that it should be disarmed by mercilessly criticizing it.
Practical criticism is an objection or appraisal of the type, that something "does or does not work" in practical reality, due to some reason or cause. Often people will say, "that might be fine in theory, but in practice it does not work". Inversely, they might show with experiment that something works well in practice, even although the theory says this is not possible - so that the theory ought to be adjusted. Practical criticism usually refers to relevant practical experience, to reveal why an action is wrongheaded, or under what conditions it would succeed. When an idea is proposed, people might first consider if it makes sense. But usually they will also weigh up if it is practical to do something about it, in terms of the consequences it has - for example, would relevant people or organizations be better off or worse off? Does it get in the way of other things? Can it be sustained? Can we live with that?
Theoretical criticism is concerned with the meaning of ideas, including ideas on which a practice is based. It is concerned with the coherence or meaningfulness of a theory, its correspondence to reality, the validity of its purpose, and the limitations of the viewpoint it offers. Theories can be criticized from the point of view of other theories, or internally "in their own terms". At issue is not simply whether an idea makes sense or is consistent, but whether it makes sense and is consistent in terms of the theoretical framework of which it is a part. In other words, at issue is the relationship between many linked ideas - what effect does the adoption of one idea have for a lot of ideas which are related to it.
Moral criticism is basically concerned with the rights and wrongs of values, ethics or norms which people uphold, or of the conditions which people face. Morality is concerned with what is good and bad for people, and how we know that. There are many forms of moral criticism, such as:
- Showing that actions taken are inconsistent or incompatible with certain values being upheld, or values deemed desirable.
- Counterposing one set of values to another, with the claim that the one set is better than the other.
- Arguing that certain values are intrinsically objectionable, regardless of any other values that may be relevant.
- Arguing that certain values ought to be adopted, or rejected, for some reason.
- Showing that somebody ought, or ought not to do something for the sake of integrity.
Scientific criticism is not primarily concerned with moral values, but more with quantitative or categorical values. It focuses on whether something can be proved to be true or false, or what the limits of its valid application are, quite irrespective of whether people like that or not, or what the moral implications are. For this purpose, the scientist employs logic and relevant evidence offered by experience, as well as experimentation, and gives attention to the intent and purpose of relevant activity.
Obviously a scientist is also a moral being with moral biases, but science aims to ensure that moral biases do not prejudice scientific findings (the requirement of objectivity).
A scientist can also criticize a certain morality on scientific grounds, but in a scientific capacity he or she does not do so on the ground that the morality itself is intrinsically objectionable, but rather that "it flies in the face of the facts", i.e. it involves assumptions or valuations which are contrary to the known logical and factual evidence that is relevant.
Religious criticism is primarily concerned with judging actions and ideas according to whether God (or the Gods) would regard them as good or bad for human beings (or for the world). Normally a religion has some sacred or holy texts, which serve as an authoritative guide to interpreting actions and ideas as either good or bad. From these, religious authorities derive norms for how people ought to live. However, the sacred texts may not always be clear, and they may require interpretation. Thus, theologians ask critical questions such as, "how do we know what God wants for human beings?". They try to answer these questions by forms of reasoning which are based on religious principles, rules and laws, and by divine inspiration granted through prayer and meditation. Religious authorities such as the Pope may voice criticisms of how people are behaving, because people's behaviour conflicts with the doctrines of the church. In religious criticism, the motive or intention of the criticism (why somebody is criticizing) is always very important. Criticism has to be offered in the right spirit so that it has a good effect. Religious criticism is successful if it clarifies exactly what is good and bad, and why that is, in such a way that people are convinced to do what religion says is the "right thing" to do.
Criticism is considered "scholarly" only if it conforms to scholarly standards. A scholarly critic probes deeply into a problem, looking at all the relevant evidence, the quality of reasoning involved, and the uses or purposes which are at stake. When he considers a problem, a scholar usually familiarizes himself thoroughly with the relevant background literature on the subject. He tries to make sure that he cannot be accused of inconsistent reasoning, that his argument is free from factual error, and that all the relevant aims, motives and purposes are made clear. A scholar also conscientiously documents "who said what and when" so that the sources of all the arguments are made clear. Thus, the scholar tries to be as objective or evenhanded as he can in making a criticism, and makes sure he has "done his homework". In this way, his criticism is much more difficult to ignore or to refute. Most often, a scholarly publication is refereed ("screened") by other knowledgeable scholars, who critically examine the text to find possible faults, and possibly suggest alterations. In this way, scholars always try to ensure the quality of what is being said. A scholarly criticism is successful if it provides a proof or refutation which nobody can rationally deny, and which is therefore accepted by most people as definitive.
The psychology of criticism
The psychology of criticism is primarily concerned with:
- the motivation or intent which people have for making criticisms, good or bad.
- the effect which it has on other people, good or bad.
The motivation as well as the effect may be rational, or it may be non-rational or arbitrary; it may be healthy or unhealthy.
People can be too critical, but they can also be insufficiently critical. To orient oneself realistically in the world, in order to achieve success in what one does, it is important to strike a good balance: to be neither excessively critical nor completely uncritical.
People who are too critical, focus only on the downside or limitation of things - they run into the problem that others perceive them as being "too negative", and lacking a "constructive attitude". If there is too much criticism, it gets in the way of getting anything done - people are just "anti", but "it does not lead anywhere".
People who are uncritical, however, are often regarded as naive and superficial ("suckers"); they lack discernment, they are prone to being deceived and tricked, because they readily believe all kinds of things, which they should not accept just like that, for their own good. If they thought more critically, they would not give in so easily to what others say or do.
Effect on others
When people criticize, it can have a fruitful, enriching and constructive effect, because new ideas and viewpoints are generated in trying to solve a problem. Suddenly, people have the benefit of ideas which they did not think of before, themselves. But people can also be very hurt by criticisms, when they experience the criticism as a personal attack. Psychologists concerned with human communication, such as therapists, therefore often recommend that people should choose the right words to express their criticism. the same criticism can be raised in different ways, some more successful than others.
If people formulate their criticism in the right way, it is more likely that other people will accept it. If the criticism is badly expressed, people might reject it, not because it is wrong in itself, but because they do not like being talked to in that way. Even if the content of a criticism is quite valid, the form in which it is expressed may be so bad, that the valid point being made is never accepted. The content may be something that people can work out on their own, but the form concerns the social relationship between people.
Especially educators, but also e.g. lawyers, managers and politicians are very concerned with the quality of criticisms. People might raise all kinds of objections and criticisms, but how good are they? Criticisms can be just "noise". Ideally, a criticism should be
In this way, nobody can deny the relevance, but also, people can digest it and everybody knows exactly what has to be done about it. In that case, it is more likely that the criticism is taken seriously.
If for example the criticism is very long, page after page, on and on, people might become confused over what it is all about, they get lost in it, and disoriented. If the criticism is vague or inappropriate, people are likely to say, "so what"? If people state all kinds of problems, but they are not linked to any solutions, then others are likely to get impatient, or say that they cannot do anything with this information. If the motivation is not clear, people might say "why are you telling me this?". If people engage frequently in bad criticism, typically it discredits themselves.
- Main article: Self-criticism
Self-criticism (or auto-critique) refers to the pointing out of things critical/important to one's own beliefs, thoughts, actions, behaviour or results; it can form part of private, personal reflection or a group discussion. Most people regard self-criticism as healthy and necessary for learning, but excessive or enforced self-criticism as unhealthy.
Constructive criticism is criticism in which the focus is on improving the content of a work or behavior of a person while consciously avoiding attacking the source of the work or behavior. Such criticism is carefully framed in politically sensitive language, often acknowledging that the critic themselves may have a fully or partially mistaken perspective. As such, insults and openly hostile language are avoided, and ideal constructive criticism is peppered with phrases like "I feel..." and "It's my understanding that..." and so on. Also, critics should strive to put themselves in the position of the person being criticized.
Some people are not open to any criticism at all, even constructive criticism. Also, there is an art to truly constructive criticism: Being well-intentioned is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for constructively criticizing, since one can have good intentions but poor delivery ("I don't know why my girlfriend keeps getting mad when I tell her to stop with the fries already; I'm just concerned about her weight"), or egocentric intentions but appropriate delivery ("I'm sick of my subordinate coming in late for work, so I took her aside and we had a long, compassionate talk about her work-life balance. I think she bought it."). As the name suggests, the consistent and central notion is that the criticism must have the aim of constructing, scaffolding, or improving a situation, something which is generally obstructed by hostile language or personal attacks.
One style of constructive criticism employs the "hamburger method", in which each potentially harsh criticism is surrounded by compliments. The idea is to help the person being criticized feel more comfortable, and that the critic's perspective is not entirely negative. This is a specific form of the greater concept that criticism should be focused on maintaining healthy relationships and being mindful of the positive as well as the negative.
Psychopathology of criticism
Criticism and narcissists
Vulnerability with their own self-esteem makes individuals with narcissistic personality disorder very sensitive to criticism or defeat. Although they may not show it outwardly, criticism may haunt them and leave them feeling humiliated, degraded, hollow, and empty. They may react with disdain, narcissistic rage, or defiant narcissistic personality disorder.
Narcissists are extremely sensitive to personal criticism and extremely critical of other people. They think they must be seen as perfect or superior or infallible or else they are worthless. There's no middle ground.
Criticism and paranoids
Criticism and avoidants
Individuals with avoidant personality disorder are hypersensitive to criticism or rejection. They build up a defensive shell. If in criticism lies a perceived hidden meaning of negativity towards the individual as a person, a defensive shell will immediately go in place.
Criticism and dependents
Individuals with dependent personality disorder are readily willing to "self-correct" in response to criticism.
- See also: Exaggeration
Template:Expand section Hypercriticism is a feature of certain personality types and is colloquially known as nitpicking or nagging. Nitpicking is minute, trivial, unnecessary, and unjustified criticism or faultfinding. Nagging is scolding, complaining, or constantly finding fault.
Template:Expand section Hypocriticism is criticism by somebody (a hypocrite) who criticizes another but does the same as the person they are criticizing. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie.
- Critical Management Studies
- Critical theory
- Critical theory (Frankfurt School)
- Critical thinking
- Critical vocabulary
- Self criticism
- Social approval
- Social criticism
- AskMen How to: Give Constructive Criticism
- WiseGeek What is Constructive Criticism?
- The Hamburger Method of Constructive Criticism
- The 4-1-1 On Constructive Criticism
- Internet Mental Health
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) : How to Recognize a Narcissist
- Internet Mental Health - paranoid personality disorder
- Definition of "Hypocrite" on dictionary.com
- What "Critical" means in "Critical Thinking": Donald Jenner, BMCC/CUNY (pdf)
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